Open-air dining has long been a part of warm-weather enjoyment. But now? It’s a way of life. As members and guests prepare to embrace al fresco eating this year, we checked in with a few chefs to see what’s cooking—and why.
Expanding and Maximizing Space
An extensive 2016 patio renovation at Fairview Country Club in Greenwich, Conn. included a 200-seat outdoor dining patio overlooking the golf course. The space quickly become a pivotal gathering place that members and guests would not only frequent, but adore.
“We were blessed with good weather the summer of the renovation and for the entire season, there were only three dinners that were not completely sold out,” says Fairview CC’s Executive Chef, Jeff Perez.
That led the club to stretch out the outdoor dining season as long as possible—a trajectory that continues to this day.
Seating on the outdoor patio at The Club at Carlton Woods in Houston, Texas is equally coveted. And as at many clubs, it provided a silver lining during the pandemic.
“Our team’s ability to creatively maximize our usable space outdoors has been the most tangible accomplishment over the past two years for food and beverage,” says Executive Chef Wes Tyler, CEC, CCA, WCMC. “The added experience of dining outdoors has presented a unique set of opportunities, allowing us to expand our offerings, offset pandemic-related revenue loss, and explore new concepts that might not have been considered otherwise.”
In retrospect, Tyler says, Carlton Woods’ patio also opened the door for further refinement, as the team looked closely at effective ways to capitalize on its success.
Creating a Fluid Experience
Naturally, members seek the same level of service and quality—not to mention an on-par ambiance—outdoors as they do inside. As a result, clubs and resorts have come to blend the settings seamlessly. At Coral Ridge Country Club in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that has meant connecting the spaces, quite literally.
“Our indoor seating has floor-to-ceiling windows, so the two spaces meld together, both with the same view of the golf course,” says Executive Chef Udo Mueller.
Fairview CC’s main dining room and outdoor terrace also flow into each other, separated only by sliding-glass doors. And the benefits of this go beyond aesthetics.
“[The setup] allows the front-of-house staff to service both [areas] smoothly,” says Perez. “To enhance that, the club invested in mobile side stations where the POS systems are located, allowing them to be moved to different locations.”
Interactivity—and Creativity—is Key
As the pandemic lifts, clubs continue to look for ways to differentiate their space and presentation. As a result, Tyler notes, action stations have become the most effective outdoor approach when it comes to preparing fresh food.
“They offer a personal connection with the chef,” he says. And the ability to prepare and serve food hot, without holding, also increases the quality and efficiency of service when resources are limited, he adds.
On Friday nights, Perez offers what he calls the “best deal in town”—sushi stations, along with chef-attended grill stations that feature the club’s signature veal chop, steaks, local seafood and more.
“It is the night that members bring guests to show off what we do best, amid our stunning patio setting,” he says.
It’s that very ability to delight diners, while remaining flexible, that has been essential to many clubs’ success.
“It’s all about creativity and trying different concepts, dishes and styles,” says Perez. “Instead of that sit-down wine dinner, why not host an outdoor dine-around with different cuisines and wines offered at different locations? Or a pop-up restaurant on the 14th hole, perhaps?”
Sound like a departure from the norm?
“Communicate with your Board on what you need to do keep the members happy,” Tyler advises. “When club management and the Board are on the same page, it is a win-win all around.”
One thing is certain: Whatever the setting or geographical location, outdoor dining—and the focus on it—is here to stay. Not yet in on the game? Odds are, if you build it, they will come. And return, again and again.